Best Of 2019

If there’s one thing Cincinnatians love more than a local brewery, it’s a local brewery with an outdoor drinking area — especially if that drinking area happens to be elevated (cough Rhinegeist cough). So when Braxton Brewing Co. announced a $5 million expansion plan in January, which includes a 5,000-square-foot rooftop deck, it just gave us one more reason to love the Cov and Braxton. The plan permits the brewery to ramp up annual production to 30,000 barrels to allow them to better serve beer drinkers locally and throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Renderings show astroturf, lawn games (aka cornhole), outdoor seating, string lights and fire pits plus a view of the city. The upstairs bar will pour Braxton brews and serve cocktails and the brewery’s new Vive hard seltzer. The rooftop is currently under construction and is expected to open in summer 2019. Braxton Brewing Co., 27 W. Seventh St., Covington, braxtonbrewing.com.

2. Arnold’s Bar & Grill

3. Hang Over Easy

4. The Eagle OTR

5. Northside Yacht Club

6. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

7. Higher Gravity

8. Taste of Belgium

9. Redwine & Co.

10. S.W. Clyborne Co.

Best Bloody Mary We’ll Miss
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

At the end of February 2019, The Anchor-OTR announced it was closing its doors after seven years of slinging super-fresh seafood to Cincinnatians at the corner of 14th and Race streets. It’s always sad to lose a favorite neighborhood haunt, and the loss of the Anchor will be felt quite deeply by fish fans … and bloody mary stans. The restaurant conjured up what might be the city’s most decadent drink via its Longshorman’s Bloody Mary. Named in homage of 1934’s “Bloody Thursday,” when longshoremen went on strike along the Pacific Coast, this drink balanced spice, acidity, sweetness and several sea creatures. The housemade base consisted of tomato juice, horseradish, pickle and olive juice, four different hot sauces, sugar, cayenne, garlic and a touch of umami with Old Bay seasoning. But it went big with the garnish, showcasing the Anchor’s fresh seafood with the option to add a lobster claw, shrimp or an oyster for an upcharge. It was big, bold and beautiful. And its loss is enough to shed a salty tear over.

It’s typically not too difficult to relax once you sit down with a pint in any brewery, but 3 Points Urban Brewery really upped the game by offering daytime coworking hours, similar to how people treat coffee shops as their remote work site. As early as 9 a.m. during the week, you can shuffle in, get a pint of their “Easy Ale” cream ale, or an Urbana Cafe drip coffee if the only buzz you need is a caffeine one, and do your work in the chillest of settings. The taproom is spacious and very open (with free Wi-Fi), so you can stretch your legs before the happy hour hustle is in full swing from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Predicated on three points — art, experience and beer — and located at the intersection of three points — Reading Road and Liberty and Main streets — Cincinnati artists interested in more exposure should also look up this brewery: 3 Points utilizes art produced by locals to promote each beer in their portfolio and also to decorate the taproom. The brand also just opened the adjacent fried chicken restaurant CHX, serving sandwiches, salads and “bantys” there or inside the brewery. Lunch hours are coming soon, so now you really have no excuse to leave. 3 Points Urban Brewery, 331 E. 13th St., Pendleton, 3pointsbeer.com.

Cincinnatians who are at least twice the legal drinking age may remember the omnipresence of Wiedemann Bohemian Special Pilsner cans at every family gathering back in the day. Well, “back in the day” is back, so to speak, as Wiedemann’s Fine Beer has reopened under new owners and a whole new recipe book. Betsy and Jon Newberry are responsible for reviving the brand and have converted an unlikely, elegant building in Saint Bernard into one of Cincinnati’s most charming taprooms. The space is on the bottom floor of the former Imwalle Memorial Funeral Home. Vintage Wiedemann signs wash the inner rooms with that comforting barroom glow only attainable from neon luminescence. The full kitchen offers enough to encourage an entire day to be spent sampling their modernized interpretations of Wiedemann beer, which began brewing in 1870. The original recipes did not come with the trademark acquisition, meaning the Newberrys — and brewmaster Steve Shaw from Cellar Dweller at Valley Vineyards in Morrow — had to come up with their own approach to the iconic brews. “We live in a city built on brands,” says Jon, “and we’re honored to be able to revive one of Cincinnati’s most-storied brands and keep it going hopefully for another 150 years.” Wiedemann’s Fine Beer, 4811 Vine St., Saint Bernard, wiedemannsfinebeer.com.

The day after Christmas, folks from Northside’s The Littlefield opened Branch, a global-inspired restaurant situated in the 1920s-era Central Trust Bank in East Walnut Hills. Their cocktails are named after financial terms, like Reverse Mortgage and Preferred Risk. Downstairs lurks a speakeasy-like bar, Night Drop. It has the same cocktail menu as upstairs, but the vibe is more chill. Accelerated Depreciation, one of several draft drinks, contains bourbon, orange bitters and a curious ingredient: Dr. Pepper syrup, which is extracted from a box of fountain soda Dr. Pepper (without carbonation). The sweet syrup offsets the strong bourbon flavor; then, the bartender adds smoke into the drink by torching a piece of wood. To make things even weirder, for weekend brunch they add the syrup to their super boozy Bloody Sunday Mary, which also contains vodka, gin, tequila, bourbon, lemon and a housemade bloody mix. Other creations include habanero-infused Green Chartreuse, fennel shrub and house-spiced gin. While you’re at Branch, make sure to snap a selfie in the owl-wallpapered bathroom. Branch/Night Drop, 1535 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, eatatbranch.com.

With a name conceived as a playful homage to philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Frenchish brasserie Sartre OTR sits on the ground floor of the Rhinegeist building and serves up a changing menu of snacks, shareables and mains with a Parisian bistro sensibility. The food is good and interesting. Order whatever “beignet” is on offer; whether it’s sweet potato, butternut squash or Tillamook cheddar, it’s going to be fried, delicate and delicious. But if you don’t feel like investing in dinner, Sartre is a stupendous stop for several cocktails. The bar offers multiple communal seating areas with a shabby chic industrial Art Nouveau vibe, flattering lighting and plenty of space for you and several of your friends. The décor is transportive without artifice, just like the drink selection. The wine and whiskey lists are long, with an obviously healthy selection of upstairs neighbor Rhinegeist on tap, plus foreign beer in bottles. But the cocktails are the star. Their riff on a classic Negroni uses Cappelletti instead of Campari for a subtle sweetness, and their Geist Spritz plays on an Aperol Spritz with Rhinegeist Bubbles instead of prosecco. The Sore Wounded — rye, China-China, Cocchi Americano and cigar bitters — is served in a corked vial for a bit of apothecary flair. And the Monkey Gland goes full Belle Époque with absinthe and gin. If freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you, we say opt for a stiff drink. Sartre OTR, 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, sartreotr.com.

With a month-long celebration for most of the 2010s, Cincinnati has honored the legacy of King Records, the locally-based record company whose impact on everything from the music industry to the sound of popular music today cannot be overstated. Last year, the city-wide celebration of King’s outsized influence on American culture was even bigger due to it being the 75th anniversary of the label’s first recording session. King Records Month has been honored each September for the past six years, timed to when founder Syd Nathan put his plan to launch a record label into action, enlisting Country music entertainers Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis in 1943 to record the first music for the venture. For the 75th-anniversary edition of the celebration last year, the events (from musical presentations and film screenings to lectures and panel discussions) couldn’t be contained to September’s 30 days, launching Aug. 25 with “Celebrate the King: The Gala” at Memorial Hall, which featured video tributes, live performances and the doling out of Lifetime Achievement Awards to King greats Bootsy Collins, Henry Glover, Philip Paul and Otis Williams, with the artists and/or their family members on hand to participate in the commemorative festivities. Besides the 75-year tie-in, King Records Month 2018 was also different due the substantial progress being made in both preserving the original King site in Evanston and taking the spirit of King further in the 21st century. In April, the city of Cincinnati took control of the old King building from the property’s owners, who had been threatening demolition. Plans for the site aren’t concrete yet, but various local nonprofit organizations envision things like a museum, studio, educational outpost and community space for the Evanston area. A 2002 album paying tribute to King Records’ artists and recordings was titled Hidden Treasures; nearly 20 years later, King’s crucial history is no longer a buried secret. King’s importance in bridging musical styles like R&B, Country and Rock & Roll is now far more widely acknowledged and its hometown is making sure that it will remain a living, breathing entity for years to come.

Before Jacob Trevino moved to Cincinnati, we were bereft of whimsical pop-culture bars. But since 2015, he and his Gorilla Cinema Presents company have innovated the bar industry by opening The Shining-themed The Overlook Lodge, the Quentin Tarantino-themed The Video Archive and downtown’s Lost in Translation-esque karaoke bar Tokyo Kitty. For Halloween this year, The Video Archive transformed into Yuletide Nightmare, a The Nightmare Before Christmas pop-up, replete with cocktails named after the film’s characters — like Oogie Boogie and Dr. Finkelstein — and scenes from the film shown on a loop. They even made a cocktail with a divisive candy corn syrup, as well as one served in a “skull.” (It wasn’t a real skull.) In November and December, Overlook became Miracle, a holiday-themed pop-up, serving cocktails inspired by classic Christmas films, like Bad Santa and Die Hard, with ingredients including pumpkin pie spice, gingerbread syrup and warm milk. The Video Archive, 965 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills, gorillacinemapresents.com/archive; The Overlook Lodge, 6083 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, thatshiningbar.com.

Aimed at children ages 3-7, each of the seven silly tracks on The Corner — a Hip Hop-flavored album project from Vernard Fields, Adam Hayden and Charlie Padgett that includes a beautifully illustrated book — is a different vignette dealing with fundamental early life lessons, such as on “Pick Up Your Towel” and “We Like to Share.” While the music is expertly crafted to grab and keep the attention of little ones, adults will likely love it just as much. The creators made a study guide to encourage educators to use the project as a unique way to reach children, and parents will appreciate the obvious talent and musicianship poured into the music, which has the feel of J Dilla or A Tribe Called Quest. If you have young kids who get fixated on, say, Barney or The Wiggles, and you want to shake up the playlist for the sake of your own sanity, revel in the sweet salvation of The Corner, which is available digitally or in vinyl and CD versions packaged with the book. The Corner, thecorner.us.

Cincinnati’s Liberty Jazz Lab concert series wrapped up its inaugural 2018 season with The Bad Plus, one of many contemporary acts that have helped keep Jazz healthy and vital by pushing the music forward and making it appealing to younger audiences in the process. The acclaimed Minneapolis trio was a great closer for the concert series, and not just because they were one of the more widely-known acts to perform. A crossover favorite, The Bad Plus is incredibly reflective of Liberty Jazz Lab’s mission and dedication to modern, boundary-ignoring Jazz. The concerts are held at Liberty Exhibition Hall, a historic former vaudeville theater in Northside that hosts a variety of events by local arts groups like MamLuft&Co. Dance and The Clifton Players, which purchased the building in 2017. In its first year, Liberty Jazz Lab presented national Jazz acts like Progger, Triptych and Noah Preminger, as well as local groups like Spherical Agenda and Down Home Collective. “One of my missions is to find and cultivate the ‘new’ audience for Jazz in Cincinnati,” guitarist Brandon Coleman told CityBeat (Coleman was brought on by Liberty Jazz founders Craig Brammer and Tim Engle to book the shows). “The overall audience is aging and going out less to their regular haunts. We want to show a new audience how exciting and relevant Jazz can be by presenting an energetic and diverse lineup.” Liberty Exhibition Hall, 3938 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, libertyjazzlab.org.

In December, former Metropole chef Jared Bennett and former Maribelle’s eat + drink chef/owner Mike Florea teamed up with MadTree Brewing co-founder Jeff Hunt to open Karrikin Spirits Co., a distillery and restaurant located in an industrial park in Fairfax, near the Frisch’s Mainliner. On-premises, they distill several spirits, including vodka, gin and apricot brandy. You can get those spirits in a flight, in a craft cocktail — like the Thank You, Next or the Lassi Come Home — or mixed with their housemade sodas. They make cola, key lime, tonic and a grapefruit soft soda (aka sans alcohol) and something known as “hard pop,” a spirited drink with one of their sodas or shrubs mixed with one of their distilled alcohols. Besides the liquor, Karrikin boasts a full and shareable food menu with a focus on Bennett’s specialty — wood-fired bites — like ember-roasted potatoes, charred beets and baked Urban Stead cheese curds. Karrikin Spirits Co., 3717 Jonlen Drive, Fairfax, karrikinspirits.com.

Last year, long-running Cincinnati LGBTQ bar The Dock was purchased by the Ohio Department of Transportation in order to make room for improvements to the Brent Spence Bridge. With the club’s untimely closing came what seemed like an end to Darkotica, a weekly Goth night that gave local scenesters a chance to flex their existential dread and stomp to classic Darkwave jams. Thanks to Mixwells Northside, however, the event is back from the dead. Darkotica takes over the bar every Thursday night, featuring sets of Electro-Industrial and EBM spun by STEPHEN29 and assorted guest DJs, like DJ Impossible and DJ Stylco. If you’re brooding on a budget, don’t fret! There’s no cover charge if you’re over 21, but if you’re 18-20, you do have to scrounge up $7. Just come dressed in your most macabre duds and with a penchant for doom and gloom. Mixwells Northside, 3935 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, facebook.com/darkoticacincy.

Laid-back Over-the-Rhine cocktail bar Longfellow recently celebrated its second birthday by throwing a “shitty dance party on OTR’s smallest dance floor.” Well, at least that’s how they put it in a Facebook post promoting the event. It’s apparent the bar has a good sense of humor about itself (the owners even decked out the space like Titanic for Halloween), but on top of the laughs, Longfellow also excels in creating delicious drinks and light bites. Menu staples are the Spruce Goose, with barrel-aged gin, honey, lime, bitters and tonic, and snacks like a Casino egg salad sandwich and late-night pierogies. Because of the popularity of the cozy and kinda tiny original, Longfellow opened a second bar in the back of the building, aptly named “Longfellow’s Other Room,” to create more drinking and hanging space Wednesday through Saturday (with pop-ups and occasional bar hours Monday and Tuesday). The décor is meant to recreate the ambiance of your grandparents’ basement and boasts Ohio’s largest rum selection and proper absinthe service, complete with fancy spoons and sugar cubes. While you can enter Other Room through the back door of Longfellow, it also has its own separate entrance at 109 E. 13th St. and Brackett Alley for a sort of speakeasy feel. Longfellow and Other Room, 1233 Clay St., Over-the-Rhine, longfellowbar.com.

Geoff Tate’s sometimes-subdued delivery cloaks a flamethrower wit, which has earned him opening slots for Doug Stanhope; appearances at South By Southwest and Bonnaroo; regular spots on Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies, Getting Doug with High and High Court podcasts; and his own Cheers-themed podcast, MSHD PODCASTO, which morphed into a more broadly-themed “podcast network” and his Altered Tates pod with his brother. As a youngster, his family traveled from city to city with alarming frequency, but they eventually rooted themselves in Cincinnati and we, as a city, are grateful to have such a funny neighbor in town. Tate has been ecstatically praised by outlets like The Huffington Post and The Laugh Button, but his greatest reviews have come from his comedy peers, including Todd Glass, Ryan Singer and author/actor/humorist John Hodgman. On his fourth album, People Are What People Make ‘Em, Tate takes intentionally inflammatory aims at onions (“When did we decide onions are OK in everything and it’s my fault for not liking them?”), the contemporary lack of respect for jugglers (“Have you ever thrown one chainsaw? If I threw a chainsaw to you and you caught it, everyone would be like, ‘That was fucking cool’ ”) and religion in the business community (“I think it’s a way to get people to take your sub-par fucking service just because you have the same favorite book”). People Are further showcases his ability as a storyteller and humorist, solidifying his status as one of Cincinnati’s funniest dudes. Geoff Tate, justanotherclown.com.

Donuts N’ Akahol is the wildly entertaining YouTube interview series hosted by Graval Baehr and Branden Tatum that features insightful chats with various Cincinnati musical acts. It’s also often quite funny. As the title suggests, the hosts gather with musicians (largely from the city’s rich Hip Hop scene) to chop it up over some adult beverages and, well, donuts, creating a casual atmosphere that allows the guests to go deep and/or let their guards down and just be themselves. So far, Donuts N’ Akahol has chatted with local Hip Hop artists like Patterns of Chaos, D-Eight, Triiibe and Lantana (with guest host Matt Scheer from DBLCIN magazine), Soul/R&B singers like Lauren Eylise and Leo Pastel and Indie Pop acts like Moonbeau and Knotts. If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of the Cincinnati music scene’s most vibrant artists, hit that subscribe button ASAP. Donuts N’ Akahol, youtube.com/donutsnakahol; facebook.com/donutsnakahol; @donutsnakahol.

Cincinnati musicians and mixologists MayaLou Banatwala and Kristen Kreft combined their talents and passions for their 2018 collaborative book project, Rocktails: An Amped Up Spin on Mixology. Kreft and Banatwala, who possess two of the best voices in the local music scene (showcased in their bands The Perfect Children and Heavy Hinges, respectively), were inspired to create the book after hosting regular Rocktail “pop up parties” at local bars, featuring drink menus with handcrafted cocktails inspired by a variety of musical acts, like their tribute to Siouxsie Sioux of Goth-y AltRock pioneers Siouxsie and the Banshees, which combines “the grit of pear juice with the sexy notes of round dark rum, bitter Campari, grape soda and a black licorice garnish.” The duo’s local-music roots show in other recipes. The “Dirty Blues” cocktail was inspired by area trio All Seeing Eyes and it’s incredibly imaginative, described as “Absinthe soaked, flamed candy cigarettes affixed into gummy orange slices as garnishes, atop a smokey Laphroaig rinsed whiskey and beer cocktail spiked with Watershed’s Nocino Black Walnut Liqueur.” At the book’s launch party last year, Kreft and Banatwala honored the local bands performing at the event with special new concoctions: “Peace of Mine” — dedicated to Indie Rock group Carriers (and named for one of their songs) — was a ginger-beer cocktail; and “Bottom of the Barrel,” a tribute to Lung (who were celebrating their own new release, the All the King’s Horses album, on the same night) included bourbon barrel gin and lemonade. Find out more about the book or hire the duo for your own party at americanrocktails.com.

The Lodge is a remodeled 9,000-square-foot Masonic Temple that is now bustling with artistic pursuits of all sorts. The space is home to photography, screenprinting and art studios; an electronic repairs service; and a performance and event space. The conversion began when Scott Beseler purchased the Dayton, Kentucky building in 2011 and it has grown steadily ever since. In 2013, Walk the Moon encamped at The Lodge to write their breakthrough album, Talking is Hard. Last year, after Cincinnati music mainstay Ultrasuede Studios was run out of its longtime spot on Spring Grove Avenue in Camp Washington, the recording studio’s owner John Curley (bassist for The Afghan Whigs) announced he was moving operations across the river to The Lodge, augmenting the recording facilities initiated there by co-founder Johnny Walker of the Soledad Brothers when the space first opened. It’s also become a cool under-the-radar live music venue, hosting shows by the likes of Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards, James Leg of Black Diamond Heavies and many others. You never know who will pop into The Lodge — Jack White visited when he was in town last summer. The Lodge, 231 Sixth Ave., Dayton, Ky., thelodgeky.com.

Sure, Bobby Mackey’s in Wilder, Kentucky is known for being haunted and for serving up some of the most authentic traditional Country and Honky Tonk music in the area on a regular basis, including appearances by its musician owner/namesake (and his “Best Damn Band”) every weekend. But for many, the real attraction remains the nightclub’s mechanical bull ride, which celebrates its 40th year of bucking patrons in 2019. Legend has it that Mackey traveled south and purchased his first bull — known as El Turbo — from Mickey Gilley in 1979 during the filming of the John Travolta and Debra Winger film Urban Cowboy, the movie that would soon make Gilley’s Texas honky tonk internationally famous. How long can you last? There’s only one way to find out. And get this, tough guy — the bar’s just a few steps away when it’s time to numb your new bruises. Bobby Mackey’s, 44 Licking Pike, Wilder, bobbymackey.com.

In 2006, Aaron Dessner of The National founded the annual MusicNOW festival in his (and his bandmates’) Cincinnati hometown, bringing to town artists from the Indie Rock and “New Music” worlds for one-of-a-kind events and performances. MusicNOW has featured the likes of Justin Vernon, Sharon Van Etten, Sufjan Stevens, Eighth Blackbird, Philip Glass, Steve Reich and many others, often performing together in different configurations and almost always offering performances you couldn’t see anywhere else. In 2015, Dessner noted in an interview with CityBeat that the unusual, intimate nature of the festival also made it a favorite among his fellow musicians: “The reason most artists play festivals is they pay better than the average gig; in our case it’s really about the experience.” In 2018, MusicNOW spawned a sibling festival, Homecoming, to carry on a similar vision and experience on a bigger scale. Held in conjunction with MusicNOW in April at Smale Riverfront Park near Paul Brown Stadium, Homecoming was more of a “Rock festival” and, by all accounts, it was a big success, drawing thousands of fans from across the region to Cincinnati with two days of Indie Rock heavyweights like Father John Misty, The Breeders and the host band, The National, who performed spectacular headlining sets each night. Homecoming drew a lot of attention to The National’s hometown, with the likes of Billboard, Uproxx, Stereogum and even The U.K.’s Independent sending reporters and running glowing reviews of the event. It also gave Cincinnati Indie Rock lovers an amazing musical experience that was fan-friendly and featured programming (including less high-profile vanguard artists like Alvvays, Moses Sumney, Mouse on Mars and Julien Baker) that helped set it apart from a lot of the huge corporate fests. Before the 2018 event, Dessner told CityBeat that Homecoming (presented with promoter AC Entertainment, which specializes in niche, artist-curated fests while also founding powerhouse events like Bonnaroo and Forecastle) was a test run, with an option of becoming a recurrent showcase; late last year, the band announced Homecoming wouldn’t return in 2019, but organizers said they “look forward to doing it again in the future,” so stay tuned. Homecoming, ntlhomecoming.com.